Korean grass, loropetalum, dwarf escallonia, philodendron ‘Xanadu’ and Japanese black pines are among the plants in the yard fronting the cedar “moon” gate that opens to an entry courtyard.
In a La Jolla neighborhood where garage doors command attention, a round gate fashioned with a 24-foot length of cedar from a single tree puts the exclamation point on its Zen setting. Before designer Adrienne Perkins transformed the front yard, the driveway marked the path to the front door. Now, stepping-stones edged by creeping thyme lead to a stone-slab bridge over a river-rock pond surrounded by lush tufts of Korean grass. Beyond lies the “moon” gate. “As a military couple, my clients spent a good deal of time stationed in foreign countries. They lived in Guam for quite some time, but also traveled to countries with a more Asian influence,” Adrienne says in explaining the island/Asian fusion that guided her. She was working with her clients on interiors when they sought her advice on landscaping. “The biggest challenge was coming up to speed on plant materials,” she says. “I did a lot of research. But I was happy to do it, because my heart was in making sure my clients got what they wanted and deserved. Nobody else felt as excited about it. I knew what I wanted it to look like and thought it would be fun.”
Adrienne took cues from the flagstone hardscape and a half-dozen Japanese black pines around the property. “The property layout creates a number of zones that range from full shade to full sun and everywhere in between,” she says. “Creating a sense of continuity from one area to another was the largest challenge.” In addition to multiple placements of various plants, elements of continuity include pagoda lanterns, koi fish designs, matching light fixtures, and a mix of flat stones and rock. Flagstone laid in a circle at the foot of the gate complements its full-moon design. Beds of exposed aggregate and flagstone alternate along the walkway to the front door. Where the space widens, a Zen-evoking fountain trickles water down rocks and across rounded pebbles. Its backdrop includes colocasia and red accents of laceleaf (Anthurium andraeanum), as well as a raphis palm near the front door. On the opposite wall, mother-in-law’s tongue stands at attention, while vinca minor drapes over the edge of a CORTEN planter. Star jasmine, trellised on manzanita branches, perfumes the air.
Adrienne designed the lighting fixtures, as well as their hanging method: chains running through (nonworking) pulleys with a koi design cut into the crank mounting plates. “This was such a big, blank wall and installing something that stood too far off the wall was invasive to the walkway; something that seemed functional made a lot of sense,” she says. A trio of fruit trees surrounded by stone were removed from the west side yard, which receives full to partial sun. In their place, a curved pathway leads to the back yard past a weeping blue cedar (Cedrus pendula), pygmy date palm, ‘Purple Heart’ (Tradescantia pallida) and Korean grass. The orange and yellow flowers of thunbergia vine cover the wall. The sun-drenched back yard features multiple seating areas, including a grouping with brightly colored blue and green cushions and pillows and a similarly appointed, built-in bench in an L-shape behind a fire pit. Carved into the fire pit top, designed by Adrienne and made from powder-coated aluminum, is the word “fire” in Japanese.
A short, stacked-stone retaining wall replaced hedges along the back edge of the yard. Stone koi fish and fountains accent the perimeter, while feather duster-looking dwarf papyrus and other greenery soften the hardscaping without blocking the view across Mission Bay. Extending from the back of the house, a wisteria-topped pergola provides shade over a teak dining table with a koi pattern etched into the wood. Adrienne designed the table and lighting fixture suspended above it. The iridescent opal glass framed in powder-coated brass with water jet-cut filigree estab-lished the design for all exterior lighting (a landscape element that went from “zero to awesome,” one of the homeowners says). The short wall that serves as one back of the fire-pit bench can be closed off by a gate (to keep the homeowners’ golden retrievers in the main portion of the back yard). Beyond it, an ipe “dock” runs between the back of the house and a dry riverbed lined with black mondo grass, dwarf ‘Katie’ ruellia and other low-growing plants. At the end of the dock, between lanterns matching other light fixtures, a pair of fishing frogs add a playful note. In the all-shade, east side yard, stepping-stones surrounded by gravel lead past Hawaiian snowbush (Breynia nivosa), sword and asparagus ferns, and a bower vine blooming with pink flowers along the wall. A rain chain quenches the thirst of a stone fish, whose mouth is filled with T wisted Arrows juncus. A stone bench resides in front of wisteria wrapped around a corner of the house.
Circling back to the front of the house, wind chimes created by Adrienne resemble a torii gate design, with copper pipes hanging from a bamboo frame. “I had some help calibrating the pipes to make sure we got low tones and not an obnoxious tinging,” she says. Steppingstones on a gravel bed continue back to the courtyard entry. Tall and whispy Cyperus papyrus backs a reproduction bench that looks like a carved-wood antique. The bench faces tractor seat plants (Ligularia reniformis) along the front of the house and Adrienne’s custom window screen that matches the circular opening in the moon gate. “The exterior of this residence was re-modeled to suit my clients’ love of Asian design and the landscape of the Pacific Islands,” Adrienne says. “All the plant and building materials were carefully selected to grow and age with grace and beauty.”